A lot of recent discussion about the labour force in Canada and elsewhere has focused on the “skills gap” – the alleged mismatch between workers’ skills and the abilities that employers need. One reason for the alleged gap is “digital disruption” – the automation or digitization of job tasks – which is changing how some jobs are done and thus changing the skills needed to successfully perform those jobs. These changes are so rapid that workers’ skills may quickly become outdated. Along similar lines, the Royal Bank of Canada recently released a report calling for post-secondary institutions to improve their graduates’ “human skills”, so as to better equip them for the parts of their future jobs that will involve working with people rather than with computers.
The narrative around the “skills gap” has mostly been controlled by employers and by the business community, and the business media have, generally, uncritically bought into the narrative. But the narrative is misleading in how it portrays the problem. It ignores (more…)
These stories tend to be very one-sided discussions, based on an implicit assumption that a university’s job is to produce what employers want. Obviously, no university student wants to spend several years and many thousands of dollars to end up being unemployable. But when all Canadian universities are struggling with decreasing government funding and increasing operating expenses, I sense an increasing frustration from universities that they are expected to respond only to whatever employers want. And, in my view, this frustration also results from a failure by governments and other stakeholders to acknowledge other purposes for university education – like producing well-rounded individuals that can become active and informed members of society.
There are great employers who understand what universities do, and why they do what they do. And there are not-so-great employers who don’t understand why universities won’t produce “better” graduates. If universities were to respond to those narrow-minded employers, what would they say? Here’s what I think it might sound like. (more…)